Postscript to Decadence of Capitalism XIII: Rejection and Regressions

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Postscript to the last article in our series on the decadence of capitalism, ‘Decadence of capitalism: rejection and regressions’ (IR 149)[1]

The aim of the original article was to respond to the widespread trend among a number of currents in or around the revolutionary movement to reject the notion of capitalist decadence, a foundation stone for the class positions contained in our platform. We pointed out that this tendency has affected elements in the communist left as well as those coming from anarchism or ‘libertarian’ versions of marxism. One of the groups we referred to was the Internationalist Communist Tendency, formerly the International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party. We pointed to two articles published in 2002 and 2003 which seemed to us to be expressions of this same trend, since both contained formulations which put the basic concept into question, identifying it with a fatalistic notion that all revolutionaries have to do is sit on their hands and wait for the inevitable collapse of the system and its equally inevitable replacement by socialism.

We noted in our article that the second of the two articles mentioned ‘For a definition of the concept of decadence’[2],   published in Italian in Prometeo n°8, Series VI (December 2003), and in English in Revolutionary Perspectives n°32, third series, summer 2004, was in fact an individual contribution and did not necessarily express the views of either the Italian affiliate of the (then) IBRP or the IBRP as a whole. We also admitted that we were not clear how the discussion about this question within the ICT has evolved since the publication of this text.

As far as we know, the ICT has not published any of the internal discussions relating to this question, so we could be forgiven for some degree of ignorance about how the debate had turned out. However, as a comrade of the ICT in the UK pointed out to the author of the above article in a recent conversation, we should certainly have taken note of the text IBRP’s ‘Refining the concept of decadence’ published in September 2005[3], which contained the following introduction: “The document which follows is the result of a wide-ranging debate among all the organisations which adhere to the International Bureau. The common work is a measure of the increasing degree of homogeneity of the Bureau itself which is a fundamental premise for us to reach the objective which we have set ourselves – the rebuilding of the revolutionary party on an international scale.”

In short, this is a collective statement by the IBRP/ICT that reaffirms the organisation’s conviction that capitalism is a system in decline, posing humanity with the perspective of socialism or a relapse into barbarism. There are many elements in the text which we could take issue with – an over-reliance on Lenin’s particular concept of capitalist decay, including his vision of a labour aristocracy, and the persistence of a redundant polemic against unnamed elements who conclude that the notion of capitalist decadence means that socialist revolution is inevitable. We will certainly come back to some of these ideas in future contributions. However, in its essence, it seems to us that this was a healthy response of the IBRP to some more important confusions which had appeared in the organisation and which were expressed in the previously cited articles.

We would also like to point to a more recent article which has appeared on the ICT website which we also think has a number of positive features: ‘Capitalist crisis, causes and consequences, a brief overview’[4]. In contrast to the 2003 Prometeo contribution, which argues in favour of capitalism’s capacity for perpetual renewal through crises, the new article explicitly affirms that the current world economic crisis is a sign of a terminal stage in capitalism’s decline. And it also opens the door to a more fruitful debate within the revolutionary camp by beginning with the assertion that “Among the various revolutionary organisations the explanation for the capitalist crisis generally centres on two main issues, the tendency for profit rates to decline and the difficulty in finding markets for the enormous productive capacity capitalism generates”. Although the ICT obviously adheres to the first position, we would interpret this paragraph to mean that the second approach still lies within the marxist tradition and is not alien to it.

In pointing out that revolutionary organisations can be affected by the siren songs of bourgeois ideology – in this case, the refrain that capitalism is still a vibrant, ascending system – we do not exempt ourselves from this pressure. On the contrary, the majority of cases referred to in the IR 149 article have their origins in the ICC itself. What is important however is that proletarian organisations have the capacity to fight against such pressure not merely by repeating the basic acquisitions of the past, but by developing them and taking them forward on a firm theoretical foundation.

Gerrard, February 2013.